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Putting the “Partner” in The Recycling Partnership with Keefe Harrison (Transcript)

[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.

[music]

[00:00:26] Liz: Hi everyone, this is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership. Welcome, Keefe and thanks so much for being here.

[00:00:35] Keefe Harrison: Very happy to be here today, thanks for having me.

[00:00:38] Liz: I know a bit about your background as one of our favorite 40 under 40 winners, but could you please share with our audience a bit about your background? And how you fostered such a passion for the environment and the industry?

[00:00:49] Keefe: I've been working in recycling for more than 20 years now. I started off at a college recycling program as an environmental educator with them and I ran the program after graduation, I worked with a state office in North Carolina. Then we moved after my husband finished grad school and started a family, so I worked part-time for three organizations at once.

I worked with the Association of Plastics Recyclers, The Southeast Recycling Development Council, and Booz Allen on some EPA work, and it really taught me how we're all trying to work towards the same thing but we have a different approach. I really launched my own work on trying to build better cross-sector solutions, and when I worked with RRS, that's exactly what I worked on.

There, I was on the team that built this model that is now The Recycling Partnership, so I've been immersed on multi-materials from different perspectives, and it's really nice to pull all this together and land in a nonprofit that works with companies and communities on being fierce change agents. It's a good way to build into it, but before I got into recycling, I was really on the track to become a biologist, so I did some work on sea turtle habitat or sea turtle tagging and research in Costa Rica.

I did mountain bog turtle in North Carolina, I worked on a sustainable logging crew in North Carolina and I also studied some reindeer husbandry in Finland, so I really used that time before getting immersed in recycling to explore all the options out there.

[00:02:37] Liz: You really did, amazing. Can you tell us more about your amazing work's baby, The Recycling Partnership? I would love to hear about the [crosstalk] the partnerships, and ultimately its effect on communities and recycling at large.

[00:02:54] Keefe: It's been one of the most exhausting and exhilarating work babies ever. Five and a half years ago we had one staff person, me, we are just hiring a new round of folks that will push us more than 45 core staff. Then we have a great network of consulting teams, advisory groups, research teams, accounting and legal that help us beyond that, we really had a steep year-over-year growth.

I think the success of that, our ability to have year-over-year is really rooted in the fact that we are all about change and we work hard to make change on the local level but to connect that with the system needs. The Partnership has just been a joy and I think everyone that I work with now it's just an amazing group of people, they just bring such passion and they're wicked smart, it's intimidating. But they're also so boisterous and engaged.

They were just all up and I live in New Hampshire, and we have a couple of in-person meetings a year where we pull everyone together, so we brought everyone up to rural New Hampshire and we took over every Inn, Airbnb, Bnb, and even my guest room, we spent four days together really mapping out the next 18 months. What a passionate, exciting group of people, the whole town just lighted up with all these interjects people.

They were out and about in green capes once for scavenger hunt. That was not typical in this old New England Town, but they brought their energy here and everyone liked it, that was good.

[00:04:44] Keefe: That's great, what a cohesive unit you have, that's amazing. Then, how about some of the partnerships? I read that you did a partnership with PepsiCo worth $10 million, that's unbelievable, Keefe. How do you and The Recycling Partnership ensure that that investment goes where you want it to go and they want it to go?

[00:05:05] Liz: I love that question. I'm getting it more and more and I think that it's a good question, one that everyone should ask. As companies are making their commitments to the environment and setting some goals, how are they backing them? One way to measure that is the number of dollars they're putting behind their commitment, but another is deciding who their partners are. They need action agents, they need subject matter experts, they need groups that are trusted and getting stuff done, and that's what The Partnership does.

When a company joins us to get work done, like the PepsiCo, 25 million Family Challenge, all in on recycling, we say, "We'd love to have you partner with us, but first you have to agree in our mission, because we are fiercely mission-driven. Then second you have to fund it." Which is a funny thing, but sometimes companies, "We love what you're doing, would you take something in exchange?" And, "No, our work takes actual hard cash because we give grants to communities." So the second is you have to fund it.

Then the third is that you're willing to play well with others. Partnership is part of our name for a reason and collaboration sounds like a kumbaya word, but it is actually really hard, and we take that part of collaboration and working with competitors to make change very seriously.

The relationships that we have with our funding partners are very pure, we don't work with partners who want to corrupt our mission, we work with partners who want to advance it. In order to do that, we have to understand why are they at this table. That cross-sector work I mentioned earlier, everyone is here for a different reason, everyone wants recycling to work for a different reason. If you're a holler, if you're MRF, if you're a community, if you're citizen, you're all doing this word called recycling, but you're actually doing a different action and your intent behind it is different.

We work very hard to understand why our funding partners are at the table and how do they need to measure their ROI, their relationship with us. Because sometimes it's about the tonnage, sometimes it's about the community engagement, sometimes it's about a specific material, but in order to get any of those individual interests you really have to elevate the whole.

I think the root of our relationship with our partners is all in action, working hard to understand them, and then think really clear that we hold them accountable. It's a fascinating balance of, "We need your funding to advance our mission, our mission will advance your goals company, however, we have to hold each other accountable to being just as productive as possible with every single dollar."

[00:07:59] Liz: Like you're saying, there's so many different stakeholders, you have your funding partners, you have the community in which you want to implement change, and then you have your own group. Do you have stakeholders like, for example at PepsiCo, will you work with one person or a group on an ongoing basis to make sure that it gets implemented? The same goes for, say, the community and your team as well. I guess, how do you roll that out and make everybody accountable on a regular basis?

I just think you're a skilled collaborator, Keefe, and I think anything you can share in that regard, well, would help so many people in our audience, whether it's in partnership like that or day-to-day working with people in general.

[00:08:45] Keefe: One example that I think is really cool is our relationship with the state of Ohio. They were trying to tackle contamination challenges statewide, and we're together to build an approach where their grant dollars are going directly to communities. Not through us, directly to communities who use our materials. Our funders are funding our staff to develop resources, outreach campaigns, our new DIYSigns tool, our climate measurement platforms, our new municipal measurement program.

The whole program that is The Partnership, is funded by our funders and it's lined up against these state grants in Ohio, so those dollars are going directly to communities from the state and multiplied by ours, both in terms of resource and some cash in development, and the product it's so much bigger than what the state of Ohio could have done or what anyone's company could have done with the city in Ohio.

The collective change that we are able to see through that collaboration is really a model that we like to put forward of how we could do this in other places. In that instance, if companies funding our mission, we call them mission dollars. It's not a one-off project, it's not a research program, it's not something specific to PepsiCo or one company, it's the company believing in our mission to align with the state of Ohio and deliver Ohio wide what needs to happen.

In that sense, it's the model that people believe in, it's the metrics that we've built from it, and it's also less tangible, but the up list of energy, the excitement that people are making that they're not alone in this, that they see companies, nonprofits, communities, states in the same space, and I think that's really where this comes to.

It's not that funders come to us so much with, "If we give you cash, did you do this one-off project for us?" We don't work in that realm, we work in identifying the system changes that are needed in the US recycling system and then designing projects that address local and state challenges, again, to those system changes.

It's really a lot of work on our team's part to map the progress of change, and then to brings funders, states, cities, nonprofits, MRFs, haulers, and everybody along into these systems change pieces. It's nimble, it's fast, and it's very much a roll up the sleeves and get stuff done approach.

[00:11:42] Liz: Definitely. Well, you've made such progress already in five short years. I know when you originally won the 40 under 40 award back in 2016, I think you said something around you generated more than 20 million in new recycling infrastructure investment, has that number gone up?

[00:12:01] Keefe: Yes. Our June tax report that came out, we measured more than $73 million of value into the system, that's about $43 million in new infrastructure. What's really fascinating in these challenging times is our grants are always needed, our dollars to buy infrastructure, like carts and trucks, are always needed. However, what's being asked for more and more is just help, our technical staff-- we call it our human capital, so not our physical capital, but our human capital is in high demand.

How do I work on this contract? How do I deal with these increased costs? How do I think about my routing for efficiency? What should our finances look like? How do I work with my mayors to understand priorities or City Council when they're struggling with a budget that has to pay for fighting homelessness, paving roads, supporting school kids and recycling? How do I make our case? The demand for human capital is increasing more and more.

What's interesting around that is we recently hosted the 50 Cities Leadership Summit. We convened 50 of the biggest cities in the country, we ask them to join us and our funders for a multi-day meeting where we explored what does it really mean to launch a circular economy, not just the academics of it, not just in one city, but across cities. We look at this as a multi-year engagement to really be the on-the-ground activator for a circular economy.

As part of that, we generated two million dollars’ worth of new grants just for those 50 cities, to help them address their challenges. We put out a request for information, "Tell us what you need." Not, "Do you want to put in for an RFP for the cart grant?" But, "What is holding your program back?" The request for grant far exceeded our 2-million-dollar budget, it was far exceeded a 10-million-dollar budget.

What we found is that communities need a lot of help with staff, they need good strong bodies getting work done. Then second, better tools around contamination. I think we've not really been true with ourselves on what does it really cost a community program to operate. Our feet on the street tagging for reducing contamination is the most effective ways to reduce contamination, it's just not super cheap. But the question shouldn't be, "We can't do something that isn't super cheap." The question should really be, "What is the true cost of running a recycling program?"

It includes staff, it includes operations like being on the street to engage citizens and to make sure that we've got a clean stream, going into the front door of the MRFs. These requests for our grants- there was also a lot of requests for multifamily- really showed us the nature of the problem from the community perspective and allows us to bring back to our funding partners, the real needs of them. We're really trying to listen hard and respond to and lift up our community partners.

[00:15:26] Liz: That's amazing. It sounds you're doing that work that feeds on the street work in Atlanta too, could you tell us a little bit about that? Because it looks contamination numbers are down and recycling overall is up, so we'd love to hear a little bit about that program too.

[00:15:43] Keefe: Yes. We currently have more than 1,400 community partners across the country, and that means everyone from communities like Atlanta that are receiving significant grants from us to really tackle problems like contaminations, operations, education, and advancing towards the circular economy all the way to the other side of people who are downloading our resources are using that new DIYSigns tool that I mentioned.

Everything we build for a full granted community, we make accessible an open-source through our website, or webinars, or workshops and we feel very strongly that we need to make sure that anything we have is available for all. Anyone can call us up and say, "How do I run a Feet On The Street program?" And we've got a downloadable kit that we can walk them through and say, "Okay, here you go, you can download this and you start first with really understanding the core contaminants." Once you've got those and we've got the standard five that most MRFs are faced as a challenge, things and bags, bags themselves, tanglers, fire hazards, and icky gooey things, those are generally the top five contaminants.

We want to make sure that those are locally accurate, and then with that, we can help them build carts tags or cart hangers, and social media platforms. They're all ready to go, they just need to be customized for the city. Then we even have training videos, we have step-by-step guides, and we just worked on developing a new app, so that it's not people out with clipboards who are tracking contamination rates and measuring change over time. We've made that easier by partnering to develop an app on that.

The work that we're doing in Atlanta is a very formalized way of that, but it allowed us to build it for everyone else. We're seeing the adoption of those programs in many communities across the country.

[00:17:51] Liz: That's amazing. You've really thought this through and really want to hear about the app and the adoption of that one, you should really roll that out, and hear the success of that as well. You mentioned how you have a lot of plug-and-play stuff ready, so that it's really a streamlined approach for communities, and you mentioned having the social media ready to roll too.

I think that's what stands out too, is you add a bit of creativity to everything, for example, your partnership with Poland Spring and the Instagram hotline, that was brilliant. Can you tell us a little bit about the origin of that? And how that went or is going?

[00:18:29] Keefe: Yes, that's been a fun one and a little bit of a foray into a space that was new for us. Poland Springs came to us with the idea, it's something that we had toyed around with but we had never had the funding to do. I said we don't do just one-off, but when it's on our wish list and we can connect the new funding source to a wish list, then we get busy at it.

The videos that were produced out of it, and then the real-time feedback on recyclability helped us to really learn how to use a new social media platform. We're looking forward to building that into a much bigger platform with Instagram and Facebook that would be available to many communities and can't quite go into a that more, but in 2020 we'll be able to give the details to everyone.

[00:19:24] Liz: That's great. Okay, keep us posted.

[00:19:27] Keefe: Yes. But in the meantime, on our website, there's a full year-long calendar of social media posts. It's meant to be a grab-and-go tool for any community who wants to run social media, but it really doesn't have the bandwidth. There's graphics that you can just pull and plug right into your Instagram feed or your Twitter account, and it's everything from holidays, to key contaminants, to details about material-specific things, like pizza boxes, or carton.

We really try to make ready to go materials, but they're not standalone documents, they're all tested in best management practice, they're connected to our resources around action.

With our community partners, we try to really think about coupling community outreach with the action, whether it's rolling out a new part of a program or reinforcing the increased recovery of good materials, or avoiding contamination of the challenging ones, we really want to always tie the message to the community or to the citizen with the action of the community is taking.

Think of it like a stacked cake, we want any community in this country to be able to enter the recycling partnership resources and begin to have a year longer, or more, relationships with their citizens through our tools, and the result is not just that the citizens know more, but that the community program has also improved. That's why the new rollout of our DIYSigns is very exciting to us, because it was one of the missing pieces.

Communities were coming testing, "We like how we can custom design some posters, and mailers, and cart tags, but we need stickers." And basically what they needed is community programs who are basically one-person with a desktop printer, that's all they have. They don't have budgets, they don't have anything, but they have that. We wanted this tool to be able to allow that person to create best of class graphics that are rooted in communication standards, that connect with the rest of our tools, that they can make theirs.

None of the stuff we produce is trademarked only to us, we want people to own it, we want them to take it and make it theirs. They have another way of messaging, that's great, but for all of those who don't, we want to make it as easy and beautiful as possible, and we don't need the credit, they can take it to their boss and own all the credit, that's great. Then they win, we win and the whole program system gets better.

[00:22:18] Keefe: Right, exactly. I love how you've taken all the community's pain points and needs to heart, and have really adapted and created a program that will work for all of them, I think that's part of the key to your success, really. I love how you aren't afraid to tackle big challenges head-on. Now, are you still doing work with the Ocean Conservancy?

[00:22:39] Liz: Yes, we are part of the Trash Free Seas Alliance and we work on ocean materials. We have a whole line of grants that are targeted around major waterways. We're very clear that recycling cannot solve marine debris, but it can be part and should be part of a comprehensive program to prevent it from getting there in the first place. We work actively internationally to share resources, knowledge, data with any group that's working to develop the solid waste systems to prevent leakage into the ocean.

I was recently on a trip into the Atlantic with a group called SoulBuffalo that convened groups like ours and major corporations that produce plastics. Greenpeace was there and National Geographic. We were east of Bermuda by something like 50 kilometers, and to actually snorkel in the edge of The Sargasso Sea and see the effects of plastics in the ocean to help drive, not just awareness, but commitments to action around that.

From there we've built relationships with the World Bank and with other groups that are in this space that are really trying to tackle the system's problems. We are active in those challenges and I'm glad you called out that we're not afraid to have hard conversations, I think that's my number-one job.

My role is to be a recycling realist, wishful thinking doesn't get us anywhere when we're trying to solve planetary problems like waste. We need to be really direct, we need to be data-driven and we need to be not afraid to take things head-on, and that often starts with a hard conversation. Whether that's plastics in the ocean, whether that's our new and emerging policy initiatives.

Another example of that is a report we're releasing later this month about bridging the gap to circularity, what can the current system deliver versus what does the system look like, that would be able to deliver on companies pledges to make everything recyclable by 2025.

There is a lot of work to do between then and there, and we take seriously our job to clearly articulate the nature of the problem and connect it to ideas around solutions, so we do not point fingers, we call and hold accountable players in the space, we build solutions together and then we help activate that. Collaboration can't happen without conversation.

[00:25:31] Liz: True. Speaking of that, do you think the disconnect between those who want a circular system in place, the manufacturers and then the plastics industry is getting any better?

[00:25:39] Keefe: I think it's going to have to get better. I think that people are exploring it, there's a will that is coming, now we need the way, our report is meant to document a way to helping us to bridge their approach.

Recycling is a workhorse of a circular economy, it pairs up with important but much to be studied and developed around reuse and definitely around reduce, but when you pivot from an academic idea into action, it's clunky, but we don't have time to be clunky. We really have no time to flirt around with ideas that are not rooted in clear pathways to success.

The very nature of our climate, of our waste and of our material use of, demands that we moved quickly seriously and with intent. We're not there yet, but we do see a lot of progress in building the momentum behind the intent to get there and now we look forward to working with others to build clear pathways of how we're going to do this. This will take a lot of organizations, like ours, at the table and a lot more companies and the plastics industry in order to get there.

The circular economy isn't just plastics to us, that's the shining light of the Ellen MacArthur program and the new plastics economy, but a circular economy is about molecules and keeping them in motion. We work very hard on the metals and the paper side of this as well, we want a better system for everything that is in the household, not just the historical packages that were recyclable, but think about what is in the household that ultimately breaks, is used, or is done less and needs to be repurposed.

As we continue to work on this circular economy, you can expect us to talk about it in terms of all materials, including those with metals that have good in markers, but it still needs a lot of work on getting it out of the household and the paper who has all this fabulous investment and U.S. infrastructure, we need to really bridge the time that'll allow that to come in and keep that material moving, as well as plastics, glass, and others. I think people too quickly think that circular means plastic, and it means much more than that.

[00:28:24] Liz: Yes, definitely. Of course, because plastics has been thrust into the limelight, so you can see how that happens, I think you're absolutely right. Also, I see that you're doing some state of curbside research, do you have any gut feelings as to what may have changed since you did that back in 2016?

[00:28:41] Keefe: Yes. Cost for communities are going up, we're seeing through our contracts work with communities, communities are coming up with double, tripling their cost. I think MRFs are right-sizing what the true cost of their operations is and passing those costs back to communities, which is the way the system works. However, communities are not always prepared to take those, so that's going to be one of the big shining lights on this updated state of curbside report.

The second is contamination. I think really what I said earlier about we need to understand what is the true cost of running a program, not just how do you pick up materials and move them to our MRF, but really how do you fund from household and collections, which means multi-family and in single-family. I think we can't really talk about circularly if we're not also talking about business and institutions, but for now let's talk about it from the residential perspective. How do we truly fund successful movement of material into a recovery system? I think we're going to have to get some right-sizing on cost around that.

The other piece on the state of curbside is really the challenges that communities are facing with understanding increased [unintelligible 00:30:10] from citizens and matching those with goals from companies. I think that plays out. Our state curbside report is- this will be our second go at it, we keep our data rolling- but we think it's really important to pause and look from a community point of view what's happening.

It marries nicely with the recent MRFs survey that we did, that produced together with sustainable packaging coalition, that's part of our asterisks relationship. But that really tackles the major concerns from the MRFs' perspective. When we can put together the state of curbside, the MRFs report and this upcoming circular economy report, we can really look at those tools as better profiling the ultimate system.

[00:30:59] Liz: Definitely. Well, I can't wait to hear about that. I saw that you recently went on a grocery shopping trip with aPR to show them what can and cannot be recycled. How was that? That must have been fun and educational too, you know so much about recycling and I'm sure shopping with the average person you learned a lot along the way, how was that?

[00:31:21] Keefe: I learned a lot. That six-minute segment took 90 minutes on mic. We were in a grocery store, I had the mic stuffed it inside my coat, we were trying to do it on the down-low and spending 90 minutes talking with someone and looking at everything in a grocery store, I left with a completely different perspective than what I walked in with.

I left looking at all those pouches, wrapped bags, and wondering- and for the most part too, "This is the wave." There's a big new push of these packaging formats coming and which of those does a MRF want? None, a MRF doesn't want any of them because the market challenges, the exportation challenges, the system's challenges of them are too great, so I left feeling like we've got to do something about this.

We just this week announced the launch of our films and flexibles workgroup, we started that with research of really what are the true in market [unintelligible 00:32:35], potential in markets and potential to grow in markets for films and flexibles, because there's no point in working on collecting them if you can't solve the in market, you have to start there.

That work was definitely reinforced by that grocery store trip of, "No one knows the clear path there, but we have to get the competitors and collaborators to use this format, who create this format, who might be able to recycle this format someday in a room, and start to have the hard conversations of how do we fix it and then how do we begin to test it."

Return to store retail is a good option for now, but we know we're only getting 4% of the available polyethylene by that mechanism, and that's just frankly isn't enough. We can't just rely in the fact that it doesn't fit in a MRF for now, so probably it can't go anywhere, that sort of thinking doesn't change problems and build solutions. We've got to begin to tackle that.

My big takeaway was the future of what is in a household is very different than what has been in a household to date, and our organization needs to partner with others, like SPC, like APR, to create a pathway to recyclability, to be able to pull together packaging format that do not enjoy strong recyclability from the system and work through a stage-gate process that involves the appropriate third parties to really say, "From the in market perspective, here's what's holding back recycling."

"From reprocessing perspective, here's the list, and from the MRF side, here's a list. From the consumer and the community side-" Through every stage, every sector, what is preventing recyclability so that the packaging format or the producer of that material can work to tackle it, and overcome those challenges. There is no pathway now, and we're working very hard to create a program that would allow us to resolve that. Here's yet another program that we, the partnership, cannot do alone, we must do with other groups like APR to do it accurately.

Then we call on producers and companies to help work together with our competitors, so everyone who's packaging in a pouch could come together and say, "Okay, now we understand the nature, the size and the costs of the problem, and we understand a pathway of how to overcome it, and we need together decide to tackle it." That's one of the big outcomes from that grocery store, that's what I learned and that's how we are pivoting it into action, and we'll be talking more about that at some upcoming meetings later this year.

[00:35:31] Liz: Great. Okay, we'll listen for more on that too. It's obvious you have a lot happening and you've accomplished a lot in the last five years. What's your next big audacious goal for The Recycling Partnership?

[00:35:41] Keefe: Policy is it. When we were formed policy was not part-- was understood to be a critical part of healthy recycling systems, but could not be part of our work plan. At our five-year anniversary, we see what are the headwinds that are challenging our whole industry and we know that- I think it's a far too conservative number, but our back-of-the-envelope estimate is, if we wanted to level up the current recycling system to make it operationally whole.

That means when every household can recycle as easily as throwing something away, what are the cars and trucks that are needed for that? What minor MRF upgrades do we need to make sure that they can handle that volume? Just that leveling up, that capital cost is at least 7-billion dollars, that's before you ever operate it for a single minute.

What's the difference between the investments that we see on the producer side? Then we see, what are the costs that we see on the community side? And, do we see a gap between where we are now and that 7-billion plus operating cost? Yes, we see a gap. We've started some really critical conversations with our funding partners of, "What it means to have hard conversations around policy?"

In Florida to make sure that bills that are designed to there is a bill in Florida that was designed to the intent to improve contamination rates, doesn't actually injure the current and future recycling system. It means, working in Indianapolis, that does not have a recycling program, to help policymakers understand the importance of funding and then bringing together other grants to it.

The policy work it becomes a state-level opportunity to lift up the system, but to also ask some hard questions. One really uncomfortable question that we have been asking is, "What does it mean when the average U.S. tipping fee and a landfill is 47 dollars a ton? And communities, their costs to drop a load at the MRF or anywhere from 80 to $100 a ton." It's the pure initial cost to recycle, it's double that your landfill, then that says that we do not have a national commitment to recycling or to circularity.

That means that the economic upheaval will immediately set companies' sustainability goals at a loss. They've got to first overcome the economic barrier before they can ever have a fighting chance, it means that community costs continue to rise and that's an example of a really hard conversation that the partnership is going to have. It has already begun with our partners, with our communities, with our haulers and landfill friends and with our elected officials. We need to have it in a bigger way in the coming months because we can't talk about recyclability goals if we start off with that sort of economic disparity.

[00:39:01] Liz: No, you're absolutely right. It's a huge conversation and it's great to see that you're focused on that.

[00:39:08] Keefe: That will be a hard one. That's one that no one really wants to do, but someone has to do. We have to have the conversation, I'm not sure what the end is, but we have to have it and we do that under a policy umbrella, it will really test-- our ability to have it is rooted in our action, in our background of collaboration, but it's going to make some people unhappy, the very fact that we're having it at all.

[00:39:38] Liz: Right, exactly. If progress is made, and I'm sure it will be, it will all be worth it. There's always discomfort before change happens, right? [laughs]

[00:39:47] Keefe: [laughs] Yes.

[00:39:49] Liz: What else do you think we should be paying attention to in the world of waste recycling and organics?

[00:39:54] Keefe: The other thing is the personal interest. What do our citizens think? When you go to your book club, a cocktail party or you meet people as you're standing around at your kid's soccer game and you say what you do, you're in recycling group, doesn't it immediately go to, "What are those arrows about?" And, "Our cap on." Or, "What about boxes?" People get pretty granular and they have this passion, but that passion is fragile because they want to know that it's worth their effort and that something's happening.

You marry that up with a concern about plastics in the ocean and with climate action, you see a public who is worked up and is calling for action, but isn't sure that their individual actions are enough to make a difference. I think we, in the waste and recycling space, have a real opportunity to make sure that consumers and citizens understand that every bottle, can, carton box, it all matters and every decision in our lives matter.

When we speak up for concerns around the environment and concerns around climate action that we're speaking up for ourselves, but we're also speaking up for our family and our neighbors, and for those things that don't have voices like whales, like turtles. I'm going to circle back to where I started in with all of this of, there is no time to be timid, it is very much the time to really invent a recycling 2.0. The public wants it and we want to give it to them so that we keep them engaged. Companies want it because they're making goals and frankly, our planet can't handle anything other than it.

[00:41:45] Liz: So true, you're absolutely right. What advice would you give to professionals considering entering this wonderful industry?

[00:41:53] Keefe: Take up an exercise, because you'll need to burn off some steam. Come in and do serious work with joy. I think one of the interesting things about our organization are- we have our core values that outline how we do our work and why we do our work. There are several of them, one is partnerships it's part of our name for a reason, another one is embrace change and drive action. But one of the 10 is purposely, have fun.

The energy that I see our team brings to a space that is tired, that has more work than it has people, money, or time. It's so needed and when people are coming into this field, I would like to see more young people who want to work for the environment sustainability but don't know of waste and recycling organic [unintelligible 00:42:55] enough. I want to say, "Yes, it is, and we need you. We need you to lift this up at first." And then second we need to make sure that it is not an asylum."

Recycling has really been and done a great job of making itself a singular issue. We've worked hard to connect it to water, to climate and to healthy communities and that means social action and making sure that everyone in a population has equal access to recycling, because that's a gateway to sustainable behavior. As people are coming into this, come into it with energy, be ready to work hard and let's really connect it to the other issues that matter to the public, like water, energy or water, climate and community, I think that will bring us all a collective success.

[00:43:44] Liz: Definitely, I love that and I love the way you approach it with intentionally having fun and the energy brought to it is amazing, it makes all the difference, it really does. Keefe, how can listeners hear more from you and the recycling partnership, do you want to share your Twitter handle or your URL?

[00:44:03] Keefe: Yes, my Twitter handle is KeefeHarrison, that's pretty straight-forward, K-E-E-F-E, Harrison, H-A-R-R-I-S-O-N. You can check us out at, RecyclingPartnership.org and there is an info line there if you want to just reach out and learn more.

We want more people at the table, which means we hope that companies all along the supply chain look at the work that we're doing and say, "Yes, this is forwarding a better system which makes me better and I want to be part of it, either as a funding partner or active supporter of it, just at conferences-" We want to know how we can help you advance the whole.

Having worked on the government side and the company side, now to be in the nonprofit side it is just so fantastic how seriously we take our obligation to deliver the tools, the resources, the knowledge, the data that we have to the industry, because, we want everyone who is in this space and there are a lot of us. Anyone who could use some of our stuff to be better, what's ours is yours, and we take that service of giving and in helping very seriously. We don't hesitate to talk to anyone and we invite everyone to join us at the table.

[00:45:24] Liz: I love that. I hope people take you up on that because you're doing such good, and we need it to continue. Keefe, this has been so awesome, thanks for your time and your energy today, for all that you're doing for the industry and the environment. You're making quite a difference and we can't wait to continue watching your journey, thank you.

[00:45:44] Keefe: Thank you. Great chatting with you, Liz.

[00:45:46] Liz: Hi again, thanks for listening today. If you are as impressed as I am with The Recycling Partnership, you'll be happy to know that you can see them at Waste Expo, talking about some of the Feet on the Street work that they've done it in Atlanta. It'll be data-driven, it'll be interesting and definitely worth your time. Check out, WasteExpo.com for registration information.

[music]

 

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